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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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Moving calla lilies

Question: We live near Crossville, Tenn. and will be moving soon. What is the earliest I can dig up my callas? They have survived well the past three winters without being dug up but they probably need to be separated anyway.

calla-lilyAssuming that your callas are the type that die to the ground each winter and reappear the following spring, the rhizomes can be dug up anytime in the fall and stored for winter.

Callas are native to South Africa, so there is always the chance that the tubers may not survive extremely cold winter in the ground. But most gardeners I talk to in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a, home of The Garden Bench) say they never dig up the rhizomes, and they come back each year. In Zone 6b (The USDA Hardiness Zone for Crossville), their survival seems a little less certain, but if yours have continued to grow and spread, then they must be in a friendly environment.

Here’s the recommendation for winter storage from the Gardening Know How website: To dig the rhizomes for storage, lift the clump out of the soil and allow them dry for two or three days, brush off the remaining soil and store them in peat moss in a paper bag in a cool, dry location.

Replant them in their new home next spring, after the danger of frost. Callas appreciate slightly acid soil that drains well, and should be watered regularly while they are growing and in bloom. They grow in full sun or partial shade.

The graceful flower bracts of calla lilies, which open about mid-spring or early summer, are lovely and delicate, but don’t be fooled by this. Callas are sturdy plants, and I have seen them escape their bed and push up through the packed gravel of nearby garden paths.

Divide Solomon’s seal

I have a patch of variegated Solomon’s seal in a shady garden bed that needs to be divided. When is the best time to do that?

Solomons sealFall is the best time to divide Solomon’s seal. Dig up a clump and divide the rhizomes with a knife, then replant in moist, fertile soil amended with plenty of organic matter – that’s what it enjoys in a woodland setting, where it thrives.

This is a plant that stands out in a shady setting. In spring, it produces graceful stems and large leaves that last until frost; the variegated variety (Polygonatum odoratum var. thunbergii) has white margins on the leaves. In spring, small white flowers dangle from the stems, and if you stand close, you may catch a whiff of the delicate fragrance. Dark berries form after the flowers fade. Make note, though, that all parts of the plant are poisonous

To grow well, Solomon’s seal needs a little sun but grows best in partial shade. It also needs consistent moisture. It is said to be resistant to deer.

Book giveaway winner!

Outwitting scanThe Garden Bench held a book giveaway a couple of weeks ago for the new edition of a book by Bill Adler, Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. The book is a laugh-out-loud funny look at what many bird-lovers consider a serious problem. There’s good information for gardeners whose efforts are frustrated by squirrels, too. Check out the details of the book here.

And the winner is: Heather S. of Port Townsend, WA. Congrats!

Watch for another book giveaway at The Garden Bench in a few weeks.

May Garden Calendar: The May Garden Calendar and Garden tips and tasks suggest many ways to get out and enjoy spring in the garden. Check it out at Tennessean.com.

When will Siberian irises bloom?

Question: I received several clumps of Siberian irises from a friend last spring. I didn’t plant them right away, but when I finally did plant, I watered them well and added some fertilizer. They looked a bit limp for awhile and finally recovered, but they didn’t bloom. Should I expect blooms this year?

siberian irisIrises are among the season’s loveliest flowers. The big, beautiful bearded irises that are putting on such a show right now seem to be unconcerned about when and how often they’re moved and usually bloom without fussing. But according to the American Iris Society, Siberian irises don’t like to be disturbed once they’re established, so they may sulk for awhile when they’re moved. If the roots dried while they were waiting to be planted, that may have dealt them another blow. AIS cautions that the roots should never be allowed to dry out while they are out of the ground, and they should be watered heavily after they are transplanted.

Last year, the newly planted irises may have spent the spring and summer getting a strong root system established. By this year, you may have a few blooms.

In general, here is what Siberian irises need to do well: slightly acidic soil in a sunny location (though AIS says they can tolerate light shade), and regular moisture. While the rhizomes of bearded irises should be planted almost on top of the soil, Siberian and other beardless varieties should be set slightly deeper in the ground. All beardless irises should be fertilized regularly.

Shade gardens, ‘Outwitting Squirrels,’ and a book giveaway!

Question: Our garden has a shady, moist area that gets sun late in the afternoon. Can you suggest some things that will grow there?

HostaThere are so many choices of plants that grow in moist shade that it would be hard to name everything, but I’ve asked gardeners what’s growing well in their shady gardens here in Middle Tennessee (USDA Hardiness Zone 7A), and compiled a list:

Ferns, hostas and oak leaf hydrangeas, false Solomon’s seal, penstemon, astilbe and creeping Jenny are all well-known favorites. Some of the spring wildflowers (bought from a reputable source, not dug out of the woods) such as Virginia bluebells, trillium and Mayapple bloom for a short while and disappear, but are very pretty nonetheless. Other spring bloomers – celandine poppies, Solomon’s seal, Jack in the pulpit, woodland phlox, wild ginger — keep their foliage a bit longer.

Summer bloomers include goat’s beard, Spigelia (also called Indian pink), cardinal flower, hardy begonia, spiderwort and sweet flag.

May Garden Calendar: It’s almost May, and planting time! The May Garden Calendar and Garden tips and tasks suggest many ways to get out and enjoy spring in the garden, in Saturday’s Tennessean and at Tennessean.com.

Can you really outwit squirrels?

Outwitting scanTwenty-five years ago, Bill Adler, Jr. wrote the Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. If you are a bird-lover who likes to attract feathered visitors by putting out feeders, you probably know that the squirrels are still winning.

So Adler has reviewed and updated the stratagems, and Chicago Review Press has published the 3rd edition of the book (“Revised & Even Craftier”) that notes that to outwit squirrels, “we have to observe, think, and look at the world from the squirrel’s point of view.”

It’s a laugh-out-loud book about the many ways a person might try to keep squirrels from breaking into a bird feeder, while at the same time acknowledging that a squirrel has all day to figure out how to break into a bird feeder, and never stops trying. But it’s also a book that provides solid information on how to attract birds, the best types of feeders to use, what seed to use and how to maintain the feeders and keep them clean.

The chapter I was glad to find is “The Unbearable Persistence of Squirrel Appetites,” which is about squirrels and gardens. Our small yard is rich in trees, including a pecan and three black walnuts that produce loads of nuts, which are vital to a squirrels’ diet, every year. No wonder we have so many squirrels!

“The squirrel is the nemesis of the gardener,” Adler writes. “A hungry squirrel – is there any other kind? – will devour any flowerlike growth in sight… Having squirrels in your yard when the first flowers come up is like having a lawnmower run amok.” (And all this time, I’ve been blaming the rabbits.)

There’s also information about attracting squirrels because, yes, some people like squirrels, and find them cute and entertaining. So there’s information about building nesting boxes for squirrels, and how to get along with them without letting them take over your house.

“We are smarter than squirrels. We can win against squirrels. We will win against squirrels,” Adler insists. “And along the way, we’re going to have plenty of fun.”

Book giveaway: Outwitting Squirrels!

Do squirrels enjoy your bird feeders? Leave a comment at the end of this post by 6 p.m. Friday, May 2 to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Bill Adler, Jr.’s Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. Don’t forget to provide an email address so I can contact the winner. (The book can only be sent to addresses in the United States and Canada.)